The studies were undertaken to evaluate honey compared with other popular forms of carbohydrates used by athletes. All three double-blind, placebo-controlled studies were conducted at the University of Memphis Exercise and Sport Nutrition Laboratory, led by Dr. Richard Kreider.
Encouraging data were presented at the annual meetings of Experimental Biology, the American College of Sports Medicine, and the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and research papers have been submitted to appropriate peer-reviewed journals.
"We wanted to see if honey would be a good source of carbohydrate for athletes in comparison to other forms of carbohydrate. Honey did as well or better in several areas," said Kreider.
The first trial involved 71 subjects who were given one of seven carbohydrate gels, including honey and placebo. Honey produced only mild increases in blood sugar and insulin, prevailing over dextrose (glucose) and maltodextrin, and was similar to a popular commercial carbohydrate gel. This indicates that honey could be an effective pre-workout energy source that does not induce hypoglycemia.
The second trial studied 39 weight-trained women and men. Following an intensive workout, each subject immediately consumed a protein shake blended with sucrose, maltodextrin, powdered honey or placebo as a carbohydrate. The honey sweetened muscle shake was the only one to sustain blood sugar over the two hours following the exercise.
In the final trial, honey significantly increased power and speed over placebo, equaling the performance of dextrose. This exciting study is the first to show that honey is an effective carbohydrate for endurance athletes and resulted in media attention from around the world.
"Our first study suggested honey could operate as a time released muscle fuel for exercising muscles. Our second experiment suggested that honey would be a good carbohydrate source to replenish muscles. However, our last study convinced us that honey can improve endurance exercise capacity," Kreider said.
This research demonstrates that honey is a carbohydrate option for athletes based on its low glycemic index, positive metabolic response, and effective energy production. These results are great news for athletes or anyone looking for a natural, convenient energy boost. The taste of honey has broad appeal, and honey is readily available in a variety of forms and flavors.
The series of studies was sponsored by the National Honey Board. The research was done in collaboration with IMAGINutrition, a nutritional technology think tank in Laguna Niguel, California.